Maternal Matters interviews Ros Davies @ Women & Children First

Ros Davies is a Mum and the CEO of maternal and newborn health charity, Women & Children First.  Maternal Matters is delighted that she’s christening the new Maternal Month page – thank you Ros!  

Can you tell us a bit about the work of Women & Children First? :

Women and Children First was established in 2001 to address the unacceptably high numbers of mother and babies dying in some of the poorest communities in the world. We work primarily through established local organisations to set up community women’s groups in poor rural areas in Africa and Asia.  

“Through meeting regularly in their groups, women are empowered to find their own solutions to maternal, newborn and child health problems.”   With our local partners we also try to improve local health services – for example providing refresher training for midwives – and advocate for better healthcare provision on a local level. This combined approach has achieved up to a forty-nine per cent reduction in maternal mortality and has reduced newborn mortality rates by about a third.  

How does your ideal working day start?: 

My ideal working day starts with news that someone wants to support our work! Funding for our projects comes mainly from big funders such as Comic Relief, the Lottery or the UK Government, but it is donations from individuals, trusts and companies which enable us to do all the ground work required to get new projects going. So, if my day starts with our fundraiser telling me that someone has made a donation online or a trust has sent us a cheque I am really happy as all those donations represent the potential for us to set up more women’s groups. We are currently planning a new project in the south of Ethiopia, so donations are helping us get that underway.   How does being a mother yourself affect the way you do your job?   About two weeks before I was due to give birth I developed pre-eclampsia. With good care and the right medical interventions – free on the NHS – I was fine and my son was delivered safely. If we had been in a remote village in Asia or Africa and not benefited from skilled medical care in good time, the outcome could have been very different.  


Empowering communities to improve maternal and newborn health - Esther Sharma, Trustee, reports

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you already know that thousands of women and babies die every year, due to complications in pregnancy, labour or birth.  You probably also know that most of these women and babies are living in poor countries.  But I wonder if you’re now imagining defenceless, helpless women who are subject to the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves? 

All too often, and not without good reason, that’s the image that can come to mind when we think about mothers and babies dying in poor countries. But think again!  For over a decade, Women and Children First has been working to improve maternal and newborn health by empowering women and their communities to find their own solutions to their maternal and newborn health  problems.  

Empower [ɪmˈpaʊə]  Make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.


It's official - Women's groups saves lives

An important World Health Organisation (WHO) Policy Guide confirms that our model of participatory women’s groups to share information in communities saves lives and is cost-effective. The Policy Guide, published by WHO and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, has concluded that evidence gathered when testing the effectiveness of our community-based women’s groups is a useful contribution to global policy on community mobilization and health education. 

Women’s groups have been demonstrated to reduce the chances of a mother dying during pregnancy by 49% and of newborn babies dying by 33%. Women’s groups are also cost-effective, as judged by WHO standards. We can achieve these results providing that at least 30% of pregnant women in our project areas attend a women’s group and there is one women’s group per 500 total population. 

This shows how essential it is that we can run women’s groups in sufficient numbers to reach as many pregnant women as possible in the areas in which we work. If we were to achieve that target in all of the 75 countries where the highest numbers of pregnant women and newborn babies die, then the research results suggests that 41,100 mothers and 283,000 newborn babies could be saved each year.

This is a ringing endorsement for our approach, its success measures and its cost-effectiveness. Please help us scale up our proven, cost-effective model so we can play a bigger part in saving the 41,100 mothers and 283,000 babies that needn’t die.

Further reading

The full title of the publication is A Policy Guide for Implementing Essential Interventions for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH): A Multisectoral Policy Compendium for RMNCH. It was composed from a series of consultations with networks of partners working on policies that affect women, children and adolescents. It is intended to provide evidence for discussions on policies to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and support integrated planning of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health programmes.

One of our trustees Professor Anthony Costello, a leading authority on maternal and newborn health has written an article: Womens groups incorporated in global policy giving more detail on the Policy Guide and its significance for Women and Children First.

Why I support Women and Children First – Our Patron Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran speaks out

Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, Immediate Past President of the British Medical Association, Professor Emeritus of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George's University of London, President of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and one of our Patrons writes about why he supports Women and Children First.

Throughout my career in obstetrics and gynaecology my research and clinical interests have been in understanding and improving the quality of life for women and newborn babies  I find it unacceptable that 290,000 women die annually from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, 2.9 million newborns die every year and another 2.6 million are stillborn. Most of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, mainly among the poorest families in rural areas, but most can be prevented.

Although I have been involved in many clinical strategies to improve pregnancy and childbirth and prevent maternal and newborn deaths, I am as interested in community interventions that promote simple preventive practices and encourage families to seek treatment at the right time as I am in making improvements in hospitals and clinics.  That is why I am a Patron of Women and Children First.

The community-based interventions which Women and Children First encourages rural women’s groups to take up are really effective.  Antenatal visits, early and exclusive breastfeeding, keeping babies warm, and recognising health problems and taking prompt action can make the difference between life and death for a pregnant woman and her baby.

Participatory women’s groups have been so successful in cutting maternal and newborn deaths that they are being recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a recently published policy recommendation and feature prominently in the UNICEF-co-ordinated Every Newborn Action Plan which aims to end preventable newborn deaths and enable women, babies and children to survive, thrive and reach their full potential.

It is remarkable that the work done by Women and Children First, a small charity with a very lean team, is delivering programmes in Asia and Africa which are being recognised as “best practice” by WHO which says that the women’s groups intervention can be seen as applying human rights and community participation principles.  These are considered to be fundamental components of WHO’s maternal and newborn health strategies.

I know that as long as there are large numbers of preventable maternal and newborn deaths in poor communities, Women and Children First will continue to work tirelessly to address this intolerable situation.  They will have my support for as long as it takes.

Please lend your support to them too. £30 will support six women to attend a Women and Children First women’s group for a year – improving their chances of surviving pregnancy by up to 49%.

Women's groups recommended by WHO as an intervention to cut newborn deaths

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a Recommendation regarding the “women’s groups” intervention which is at the core of Women and Children First’s work with its partners in Africa and Asia. 

Women and Children First has been developing and applying the women’s groups approach with its partners and UCL researchers for over ten years and is delighted that the WHO has made this Recommendation as it represents an acknowledgement at the highest global level that women’s groups are a valuable contribution for improving maternal and newborn health.   The Recommendation will also encourage other players to adopt the methodology which was developed and tested in Bangladesh, India, Malawi and Nepal.

The Recommendation states:

  • Implementation of community mobilisation through facilitated participatory learning and action cycles with women’s groups is recommended to improve maternal and newborn health, particularly in rural settings with low access to health services.
  • Implementation of facilitated participatory learning and action cycles with women’s groups should focus on creating a space for discussion where women are able to identify priority problems and advocate for local solutions for maternal and newborn health.

The WHO Guideline for the Recommendation states that the recommendation is "strong" for newborn health and reports that the guideline development group says that intervention can be seen as applying human rights and community participation principles, which are considered to be fundamental components of WHO’s maternal and newborn health strategies. The Guideline contains more detailed comments on considerations to be taken into account for implementation, the political and social context and specific local factors that might be relevant to implementation. 

Women and Children First believes this intervention should be scaled up in areas with the highest maternal and neonatal mortality rates and its current and future programmes will endeavour to do this.  Women and Children First welcomes support from stakeholders, donors and other players to achieve this aim.



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Please help us cherish another mother

Last year, with your help, we saved 5,000 mothers and their babies.

Please help us do the same again this year by joining our Cherish Another Mother campaign.

Make a donation in the name of the mother in your life who you cherish. Read more.